SPOILER ALERT: Troubled by The End of A Star is Born

Posted on October 10, 2018 at 9:34 am

SPOILER ALERT: Anyone who has not seen “A Star is Born” or any of the previous versions and does not want to know the anding should read no further.

Many thanks to USA Today’s Bryan Alexander for writing about the troubling ending to “A Star is Born.” Like the previous versions of the story, it ends with a suicide, and as I explained in my review, while writer/director Bradley Cooper brought some nuance to the conclusion, it still concerns me that suicide should ever be portrayed as noble or a sacrifice for others. As I told him:

“I sat through this whole movie, thinking, ‘I hope they find a better way of dealing with this,’ ” she says. “I don’t want anyone to think (suicide) is ever a choice.”

Minow was pleased about a scene in which Maine’s brother (Sam Elliott) tells a distraught, guilt-ridden Ally that the singer’s death was not her fault.

“That took the responsibility off of her,” says Minow, who thought that still didn’t go far enough. “You want to be sensitive about portraying nobility or catharsis through suicide. Suicide is nothing but sad. Always sad. We can do better in 2018.”

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A Star is Born

Posted on October 3, 2018 at 5:52 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Some fights, medical issues, suicide
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 5, 2018
Date Released to DVD: February 18, 2019
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

There are movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” that are periodically remade to reflect changing times. And then there is “A Star is Born,” with its fifth version in just under 90 years, where the difference is in the details of the characters and performances but the theme remains the same. Going back to 1932, with “What Price Hollywood,” and then the Janet Gaynor/Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand versions of this same name, it remains the story of a fading male performer with substance abuse problems who falls in love with a young, talented female, helps her become a star, and then realizes he is in her way.

It is perhaps surprising that this story still carries so much power to move us. It could be corny and dated. After all, stars these days go to rehab and then come out to tell their stories of redemption and healthy habits on the cover of People Magazine. The credit for this latest version’s compelling power goes to its director/co-writer/star, Bradley Cooper, who has told the story with verve, specificity, and conviction, and who wisely selected pop superstar Lady Gaga to play the part of the young singer. Life imitates art for the performer originally as famous for her transgressive videos and wild attire (who can forget the meat dress, now at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum?) as for her music. Reportedly, when Cooper met the artist originally known as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, he wiped the makeup off her face and told her that was how he wanted her to be seen in the film. Her character, Ally, would not be the highly burnished, defiantly confident, even brazen pop performer in grotesque haute couture, but the real girl underneath. That girl is a revelation. The emotions we see on her face as he tries to pull her onstage for the first time, and then her resolve as she steps out from the wings are achingly honest.

Writer/director/co-star Bradley Cooper shows as much evident pride and pleasure in showing her to us as his character, Jackson Maine, does in pulling Ally onstage to introduce her to the audience by making her sing, for the first time, her own songs. His careful attention to every detail is evident in every moment and he has a true musician’s sense of pace and timing. The songs are not just lovely; each of them is meaningful in revealing character and helps to tell the story. The two most recent “Star is Born” movies had their songs nominated for Oscars. One was a winner; the other should have been. This follows in that tradition and I hereby predict that “Shallow” will win this year’s Best Song and that Lady Gaga will be nominated as well.

Cooper’s script reflects the intensive textual analysis he learned in his studies at the Actors Studio and his direction reflects his deep understanding of the importance of creating a safe space for actors to take risks and be completely vulnerable on screen. His own performance is meticulously considered. We see his struggle, his pain, and his passion for music. But like his character, it is very much in service to Lady Gaga as Ally. Cooper says that the idea for the film came to him when he was backstage at a Metallica concert, where he could see the intimacy of the experience of the musicians working together on stage at the same time he saw the immensity of the crowd caught up in the experience. He creates that for us here, and one of the movie’s best images is the small, private smile we see when Jackson begins his signature song. For a moment, the agony of his world disappears and all that is left is the music and the connection it makes to the audience.

Ally gives him that feeling, too. Helping her pulls him out of himself, at least for a while. But his past and dark thoughts about his future are too much to bear.

Cooper also has some small but lovely tributes to the earlier versions of the story, to James Mason wiping off Judy Garland’s garish make-up and to the bathtub scene with Streisand and Kristofferson. But this is very much a stand-alone, a timeless story of love and loss, and a stunning debut from a director who arrives fully present, utterly committed, and astonishingly in control of a vision that is a work of art and completely heartfelt.

SPOILER ALERT: All of the other versions of this story end with a suicide that is portrayed as tragic but also noble, a sacrifice to make it possible for another person to succeed. I was very concerned going into this film that it would perpetuate this toxic romanticized notion. Cooper finds a way to mitigate that to some extent, but viewers should know that it remains a very troubling issue and is the reason I did not give the film a higher grade.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, alcohol and drug abuse, some fighting, sexual references and situations, some nudity, and suicide.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Jackson tell Ally the truth about what was happening to him? What will Ally do next? How is this version of the story different from the previous films?

If you like this, try: the earlier versions of the story, with Frederic March and Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and James Mason, and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson

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The Four Previous Versions of “A Star Is Born”(Plus the Real Story)

Posted on September 27, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2018
One of the biggest films of the year is the latest version of “A Star is Born,” written and directed by Bradley Cooper and co-starring Cooper and Lady Gaga. The story of the fading star with substance abuse problems who helps — and loves — a talented newcomer has been filmed under that title twice before, and once before that as “What Price Hollywood?” And it is inspired by the true story of two of the biggest names in show business in the 1920’s-30’s.

What Price Hollywood? George Cukor directed the version starring Constance Bennet as a Brown Derby waitress who meets director Lowell Sherman when she waits on him at the restaurant. While this is not explicitly the source of the following versions, and the waitress and director do not get married (because he is too noble), the essence of the story is all there, including (SPOILER ALERT) the suicide of the male character.

A Star is Born

Dorothy Parker and her husband were two of the scriptwriters who worked on the glossy drama starring Frederic March and Janet Gaynor that has been the basis for three remakes (so far). She’s a waitress who catches the eye of a fading movie star. He gets her a screen test, the studio changes her name, he embarrasses her at an award ceremony, and when his drinking gets worse, she quits her job to care for him.

A Star is Born

Broadway legend Moss Hart contributed to this musical update, again directed by George Cukor, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. It’s long and unwieldy (some excised scenes were partially added for re-release), but it has unforgettable moments like this one.

A Star is Born

Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson star in the 1976 version, which won an Oscar for Best Song. Reportedly, she tried to persuade Elvis Presley to take the role.

A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper says he was inspired to make the film by being backstage at a Metallica concert. He wrote, directed and stars opposite Lady Gaga. She may repeat her predecessor’s experience with a Best Song Oscar for this one.

Certainly there are many possible inspirations for the story, but most people think that one of the likeliest possibilities is the marriage of Al Jolson, one of the biggest stars in the country during the era of vaudeville and radio, and Ruby Keeler, who became a huge star in the early days of talkies.

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Bradley Cooper on A Star is Born

Posted on September 27, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers
Lady Gaga plays Ally, who becomes a star in what is the 4th or 5th version of this classic story, depending on whether you count “What Price Hollywood.” Lady Gaga herself becomes an instant movie star as already-star Bradley Cooper becomes an instant writing and directing and maybe even singing star in one of the year’s biggest releases.

I wrote about Bradley Cooper, who spoke about the film at the first non-festival screening for The Credits.

An excerpt:

Cooper said the moment that inspired the film was at a Metallica concert. “About seven years ago I was lucky enough to be backstage at a Metallica concert at Yankee Stadium. I had met Lars Ulrich, and I listened to Metallica when I was 14 years old. That’s why the character says, ‘Ride the lightning’ in Silver Linings Playbook. At the concert, I was behind the drum kit, and I could see the sweat on the back of Lars’ neck, and at the same time, I could see the scope of the audience in front of him. It was a beautiful proscenium, and that was the first moment where I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen that on film, the subjective eye that could actually be epic and personal at the same time. And that was the beginning of the idea of how we were going to shoot all of the concert sequences that you just saw. It is all subjective. We never left the stage. But hopefully, you felt the scope of where they were.”

The concert scenes feel authentic because they are. Cooper filmed at real performance spaces, including the largest privately owned music festival in the world, Glastonbury, where they had just eight minutes to shoot before a performance by the star of the last version of A Star is Born, Kris Kristofferson.

Cooper said, “I had the luxury of having worked so often on camera and on stage, so I knew what I needed from a director as an actor in order to feel comfortable enough. As Al Pacino said, ‘We’re just trying to grab a few moments of authenticity.’ It’s important to create a space so that all the actors feel completely safe but also to know that it’s going to be hard. They’re going to have to go to places that scare them. They’re going to know that I’m right there with them. I’m not on the sidelines. It’s going to be okay to fail, but they have to risk. I have no desire for them to sit here and watch something that does not mean anything, that isn’t really personal to them and to me. Everybody wants to express the deepest part of themselves to another human being and feel safe about that. It’s very cathartic and healing.”

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Another “Star is Born” Movie? Possibly, with Bradley Cooper as Director and Beyonce to Star!

Posted on March 30, 2015 at 3:54 pm

A movie that’s already been done three times (at least) may just get yet another remake if the rumors are true that Bradley Cooper will direct and Beyoncé will appear in “A Star is Born.”  The original 1937 version, said to be inspired by (among others) the marriage of aging vaudeville star Al Jolson and rising movie star Ruby Keeler, starred Janet Gaynor as the fresh-faced newcomer and Frederic March as the once-powerful star who is now losing his lustre.

The second version starred Judy Garland and James Mason, with some of Garland’s best-remembered songs, including “The Man That Got Away,” “Swannee,” and “Born in a Trunk.”

The third version starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.  “Evergreen” won an Oscar for best song.

Reportedly, Streisand begged Elvis to take the role of the fading rock star. That would have been something to see.

There are similar and related films, including the 1932 film “What Price Hollywood?” directed by George Cukor. Though he grumbled that the story was plagiarized from “What Price Hollywood?” he also directed the Judy Garland version. International adaptations include the Bollywood film “Aashiqui 2” and the Malayalam film “Bharatham.” Reportedly, the idea for “Nashville” came from a comment on a proposed country version of “A Star is Born” that unlike movie stars and rock stars, country stars never fade.

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